Conservatory Needs Kevin Noe

To the Editors:

I am motivated to write because of the overwhelmingly positive student response to conducting candidate Kevin Noe, who performed with the Oberlin Orchestra last Sunday night in Finney Chapel.
The penultimate candidate in a grueling search to replace current conductor Paul Polivnick, Mr. Noe demonstrated, during his week-long interview, that he is exactly what this conservatory needs to invigorate, and further the advancement of, the orchestra program and the conducting department.
In a program that highlighted the technical virtousity and sensual orchestral colors of Falla’s Spanish dances and Puts’s 1st Symphony, as well as the demanding Ginastera harp concerto, beautifully played by Nuiko Wadden, Mr. Noe performed as a gifted and mature musician, with a refreshing spontaneity and musicianship. the utmost confidence of experience and talent, and the energy and enthusiasm of the not-yet-old,. The orchestra has rarely sounded so fine.
While the performance of the orchestra provides ample testament to the effect of Mr. Noe, it is the enthusiasm of the players themselves that is, ultimately, the most compelling consideration in this job search that requires not just technical excellence, but the innovative conceptual energy necessary to continue the ever-developing advancement of the orchestra program.
Conservatory musicians are traditionally ruthless in their criticism of the orchestra and its conductors, not, primarily, because of the musical experience or the skill of the stick-holders, which is almost always, by definition, not an issue, but because of the inherent conflict between responsibility (six hours of rehearsal and extremely demanding repertoire) and reimbursement (one credit hour).
Given this reluctance, it is rare that a conductor, even an excellent one, can excite, inspire, motivate, and compel an orchestra to a dramatically different musical level. During the course of the dress rehearsal, that is exactly what happened. One could sense an exponential growth of confidence and unity from the orchestra, stemming directly from the capable and enthusiastic podium.
Mr. Noe maintained a sense of purp ose remarkable in any strata of the musical world, demanding and keeping an intense focus even as he stepped through the orchestra to speak to the clarinets, or ran to the brass to discuss a phrasing issue. He spoke knowledgeably about every instrument family; every detail he mentioned bore compelling musical fruit. And after a grueling workout, which, even pre-spring-insanely-hot-weather, had everyone sweating, the ensemble spontaneously and sincerely — and concertedly — applauded his work for several minutes before he stopped what sounded distinctly similar to the student response at the end of a McMillin or Hood or Plank or Blodgett or Care class in order to illustrate in a final allegory the importance of the forthcoming concert.
If he spoke more from the podium than most conductors, he certainly made good use of his words; more often then not, he kept the orchestra laughing. And he was able to bring a certain emotional presence to the entire ensemble with a sincerity that one very rarely experiences, particularly in a 105-member symphony orchestra. Coupled with his clarity of gestures, he and the orchestra began to move distinctly in the direction of functioning as a single virtuosic musician playing an exquisite instrument. The performance was not without minor flaws, of course—the material was considerably difficult, and the amount of preparation was, as always, not overwhelming—but the level of musical connection created last week is one with which few orchestras are acquainted, and was, for the audience, magical.
Kevin Noe is young. It is true. But while each of the conducting candidates demonstrated technical brilliance, and some, particularly Imre Pallo, brought a strength and purity to the podium that only years of experience can provide, Mr. Noe is undeniably capable of excelling at Oberlin. And when one considers the forthcoming losses the Conservatory will suffer next year — of Wendell Logan, (who will retire after 30 inexpressibly influential years), and William Marvin (one of the most universally beloved and respected professors who was inexplicably denied tenure after single-handedly transforming hundreds of student’s interest in music theory over the past seven years) — two of the most definitively excellent professors in recent memory, it begins to appear crystal-clear that Rock knows what it is talking about.
“OBERLIN NEEDS KEVIN NOE,” reads the boulder facing the Conservatory administration.
We do.

–James Blachly
College senior

April 19
April 26

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